More Environmental Protections Needed For Poor, Minority Communities

An old phrase states that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I have been away from the environmental community since 2000. Fifteen years later, I have chosen to return and I have realized that much work still needs to be done in poor, minority communities which are the most impacted by air, water and toxic contamination.

One major challenge is that many foundations do not fund minority-led environmental protection community-based organizations. These inequities in funding environmental groups need to change in order for newer, grassroots, environmental protection nonprofits to do more work in the communities that are most polluted.

 A report just released by Earthworks and Clean Water Fund, titled “Californians at Risk: An Analysis of Health Threats from Oil and Gas Pollution in two communities: Lost Hills and Upper Oja,” provides a spotlight on environmental issues that can be easily ignored. Most of us just drive past Lost Hills and Upper Ojai via freeways, not realizing that much contamination takes place in these areas.

The report states that “in regulating the oil and gas industries, California agencies have failed to prioritize public health and natural resources, ranging from lax regulation of wastewater disposal, air emissions, seismic impacts, and protection of water resources.”

That is the major problem that poor communities face. The lax oversight from agencies that are taxpayer-funded such as California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal EPA), the Resources Agency, and more specifically the Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the California Air Resources Board (ARB) and other institutions that are vested with the job of protecting our environment and health.

Why is it that these agencies tend to overlook or ignore regulating the oil and gas industries? One reason may be that polluting industries have billions of dollars to spend on public relations and extremely well-paid anti-environmental lobbyists. These lobbyists and public relations hired guns know how to counteract and dismiss studies conducted by Earthworks and Clean Water Fund.

It is a David vs. Goliath type of work.

Therefore, foundations need to diversify their funding appropriations. They need to do more research in identifying and seeking out small, minority-led, and environmental protection nonprofits that need funding.

In my 15-year absence from the environmental movement, most environmental justice organizations have disappeared such as the Madres del Este de Los Angeles – Santa Isabel and Concerned Citizens of South Central. A few, new organizations have been established but they work on survival mode since the major foundations tend to support the well-established, multi-million dollar, mainstream, environmental groups.

Why are small, startup, minorityled environmental protection nonprofits expected to do work for free? These low-income, minority communities are already existing on a day-to-day survival mode. Therefore, environmental justice work is twice or triple the work since the barriers and obstacles are multiple. Doing environmental protection work in cities such as Santa Monica and other affluent cities is much easier since the mainstream environmental groups have powerful development/fundraising departments.

 Minority community members, especially our newly established nonprofit, the California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network — CLEAN — applaud Earthworks and Clean Water Fund for taking the leadership role in providing this report, in English and Spanish.

Now, let’s work together to protect our environment and public health by advocating for environmental protection agencies simply to do their jobs.


Randy Jurado Ertll is executive director of the California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network — CLEAN.